The Black Panther Party
The Black Panther Party was established in 1966 by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, to stand up to brutality by the police towards the Afrikan-American community. They wore black jackets and black berets and they put together armed civilian defences in many United States cities. The Panthers had a membership of around 5,000 who organised free food for children, set up health clinics and provided shoes and clothing. The party had branches all over the United States and at their height sold over 250,000 newspapers a week. It was estimated that they had the support of around 90% of the Afrikan American community and their influence on Black America was huge.
The creation of the Panthers was a direct result of the expansion of the civil rights campaign which had started over ten years earlier. The movement had been based predominantly in the south and demanded the integration of schools, buses, restaurants and waiting rooms etc. Thousands of Afrikan Americans had been assembled to take part in freedom marches, protests and sit-ins and both the police and the Ku Klux Klan provided a continual threat of barbarous assaults and death. In the face of this hostility the civil rights leaders, of whom the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King was one, continued with their ideology of civilian defiance and nonviolent resistance. Angela Davis, another political activist of the time was a member of the Communist party, but later developed links with the Panthers. The growing animosity and brutality directed towards the movement by the police and others, brought about tensions within the membership, causing contradictory opinions on the methods to be employed for Black Freedom.
Kwame Ture (Formerly, Stokely Carmichael) and Eldridge Cleaver were foremost in opposing passive resistance and characterized the point of view of a new breed of Blacks who acknowledged that the nonviolent approach was ineffective. Parallel to the general civil rights movement was another group known as the Nation of Islam, with substantial numbers they believed in separation rather than integration and were totally against passive resistance. They adhered to their own beliefs and declined to unite with the mainstream civil rights movement.
The constraints of both passive resistance as advocated by Martin Luther King and the militant separatism espoused by the Nation of Islam were well understood by Malcolm X, who was a prominent leader at the time and had recently departed from the Nation of Islam. He sought to embody civil and economic affairs and recommended a more systematic approach. It was against all this turmoil that the Black Panthers were established. The Panthers adopted the radical principles and combative attitude of Malcolm X, they were resolute and even though Malcolm X had been assassinated they would carry out his objectives.
The Panthers decided to initiate their statutory rights by taking up arms to enforce the principle of self-defence. They kept watch on the police, as at that time cruelty by the police was prevalent and they would maltreat and murder Black people indiscriminately. Police were even enlisted from racist southern states to patrol northern cities.
Neighbourhood schemes were very meaningful in the Panthers plan of action, because they illustrated that politics was applicable to the communities and their lives. Providing medical care, provisions and clothes were indicative that the Panthers understood what people needed. The schemes accomplished a great deal with minimal funds and they demonstrated that a lot more could have been achieved with help from industry and government.
The Panthers achieved considerable success with their political action and community schemes and as a result of this they began to draw the attention of the Head of the FBI, J Edgar Hoover. The Panthers were proclaimed “the number one threat to the internal security of the United States” and the FBI then proceeded to infiltrate and undermine the party. The FBI stepped up their counter intelligence program (COINTELPRO) against the Panthers and almost all its branches were raided. They infiltrated the group and caused rivalries between members which spilled out into violence among warring factions within the party. They also continuously arrested members, thereby disrupting the everyday activities of the party. The FBI counter intelligence program was successful, and the Black Panther Party was disbanded in 1982.